What were the young women's occupations before becoming comfort women? Who recruited them? Did the recruiters pay and to whom? Were the women sexually violated during transportation? What types of abuses did the women receive? After the war, did they get married? 125 questions, including these, were asked to 192 former Korean comfort women, and their answers were tabulated and published in "The Survey of Korean Comfort Women Used by Japanese Soldiers" by the Center for War and Women's Rights in Seoul in 2002.
Critics question the credibility of this and other surveys conducted by nationalistic Korean organizations. However, the survey contains answers that do not seem self-serving. Nor do the women's responses appear manipulated to demonize the Japanese military. Instead, the answers seem to demonstrate the women's credibility and debunk the claims of the women's numerous and ardent skeptics.
What were their occupations during their pre-comfort-women period? Nearly 80 percent of the women listed themselves as doing household work at home or were maids, agricultural workers, factory employees, students or otherwise engaged in areas outside the sex trade. Some scholars have suggested a great majority of the former comfort women were already prostitutes, who followed the Japanese military camps as contractual sex workers. However, only 4.7 listed "restaurant or wine housework" and the remaining 15 percent fell into the "unknown" category. Since "wine house" work sometimes included providing sex for hire, one might assume these women, along with all of those whose answers were unavailable, were sex workers. However, the combined 20% hardly comprises the "majority" critics claim as the number for those who had already been in the trade.
With whom did the women live before becoming comfort women? Nearly 70 percent responded they lived with immediate family, presumably under watchful eyes of their parents (61 percent of the 70 percent lived with both parents), who most likely enforced the Confucian ethic ― maintaining vigilance over their female offspring's virginity until marriage. Even if one assumes the 25 percent who lived apart from their families and the 5.7 percent unknowns were all prostitutes, the combined total of 30.7 percent does not constitute a "majority."
Did they receive payment at the time of their being led/lured/forced away? Over 60 percent answered "No," (with a remaining one-third's answers unknown). However, nearly 6 percent said "Yes" and of these, 2.6 percent of the total reported their parents received the payment. Two percent said they themselves did, and 0.5 percent reported their husbands got it. These answers expose their own parents, husbands, and employers as the agents of "selling" them. Some critics have long held the opinion that comfort women's own family members or the women themselves accepted payment from recruiters, and they are right. But the number of those who "sold" their family members or fellow countrymen, 6 percent, seem a small fraction.
On the recruiters' nationality, the women reported over 33 percent as Koreans and only 18 percent as Japanese. For nearly half of the recruiters, the nationality is unknown. These responses point to Koreans as much as Japanese, another indication of the survey's objectivity and much lower rate of anti-Japanese bias than claimed by critics.
Were the women sexually violated during the transportation phase? From published or oral testimonies given by former Korean comfort women, one might have concluded a majority of them were raped even before they reached comfort stations. However, less than 5 percent reported they were.
While the survey may not be perfect, the measure of honesty respondents exhibited makes it a useful tool in snapping puzzle pieces into place as one seeks to reconstruct the profiles of the former Korean comfort women of WWII.
The writer is author of an autobiographical novel about Korea, "The Voices of Heaven," and a poetry book, "Long Walks on Short Days," Maija Rhee Devine is working on her next books ― a nonfiction book and a novel about comfort women of WWII. Contact: www.MaijaRheeDevine.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.